Basic (Columbia Pictures). "Another depressingly empty action thriller" gives critics the opportunity to crack wise. "But wait," snarks Elvis Mitchell, "there's less." The Dallas Observer's Robert Wilonsky offers this zinger: "If it isn't the worst movie of 2003 I've watched, it's only because I haven't seen Boat Trip yet." A few reviewers don't mind the tangled plot so much: "The rusty logic doesn't stand up to scrutiny, but at least the cast keeps the film dumbly agreeable," writes the Onion's Keith Phipps. And the Chicago Tribune's Michael Wilmington cuts the film unusual slack, praising John Travolta's performance and shrugging ambivalently, "As long as you're not picky about piecing things together logically at the end—and you should be, actually— Basic is pretty entertaining." (Buy tickets to Basic.)
The Core (Paramount). Reviewers are exasperated and charmed by the "brazen silliness" of this "enjoyably retro sci-fi disaster pic"—but mostly charmed. "Is it willfully or unintentionally ridiculous? More importantly, does it really matter?" muses Scott Tobias in the Onion. There's "something endearing about the old-fashioned earnestness of this disaster movie, complete with flashing numbers, beaucoup scientific jargon and dollops of portentous 'I think you should check this out' dialogue," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. (In any case, he adds, "A film that comes up with a rare metal called Unobtainium can't be dismissed out of hand.") Meanwhile, Michael Wilmington—apologist for Basic!—has no leftover patience for The Core, calling it "an elaborate misfire" in the Chicago Tribune. Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman agrees, summing it up as "a schlockier Armageddon crossed with Fantastic Voyage, minus the fun." (Read David Edelstein's review in Slate.) (Buy tickets to The Core.)
Head of State (DreamWorks). EW's Lisa Schwarzbaum is the odd reviewer out on this one, writing that the Chris Rock comedy is "as blithe and fearless in talking about race as Bringing Down the House is nervous and coy." Few agree. The New York Times'A.O. Scott calls the presidential farce "curiously tentative and unfocused" and dryly assesses the film's use of racial stereotypes: "I'm not down with that. Nor am I feeling it." The Associated Press' Christy Lemire groans that State is "just the latest in a recent series of white-people-are-so-lame movies," (inserting her own sardonic slang reference, "Fo' shizzle!"). In the Los Angeles Times, Manohla Dargis finds the film's politics interesting enough but notes that, "No matter how sharp his tongue and honed his delivery, the comic makes for one grievously bad director and almost as regrettable a leading man." In the Washington Post, Michael O'Sullivan isn't all that interested in the politics, but he does find the film to be good, stupid fun. (Buy tickets for Head of State.)
A Ship Made of Paper, by Scott Spencer (Ecco). Critics praise this tale of interracial adultery as "a wild ride that lurches and swerves and floats"; "a love story that you can recommend, without blushing, to other adults"; "a middle-class tragedy in a classical mode." In the Philadelphia Inquirer, Frank Wilson detects in the book "a complex, resonant variation on the theme of romantic obsession that Scott Spencer pretty much remade his own in Endless Love." But in the New York Times, Laura Miller complains that the author is so eager to let his adulterous heroes off the hook that he stacks the deck against their betrayed spouses, rendering the story "less a complex, full-blooded work of art than an elaborate excuse, or even a symptom. It reeks of displaced anger."
The Oscars. Postgame Oscar analyses skimp on fashion chatter, with critics voting instead for Best Display of Anti-War Sentiment. In the New York Times, Alessandra Stanley calls Susan Sarandon's wee peace sign "the briefest and classiest flash of protest." The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw singles out Michael Moore's "magnificent acceptance speech" as "the fiercest and boldest in Academy history." But Salon's Cintra Wilson shakes her head at the polemicist's "waddling, honking and gland-spraying," lauding Adrien Brody for "beautifully and effortlessly … rallying the anti-Bush sentiment Michael Moore was trying so sweatily to shove home."
As for Brody's attack-smooch on presenter Halle Berry, Television Without Pity's "daisycherub" has this suggestion: "I've been thinking about how great it would be if next year's Best Actress forces Adrien Brody to make out with her, especially if she's old and nowhere near as hot as Halle. Harvey Weinstein, please develop a Holocaust drama starring Bea Arthur! Make this happen!" (To read Slate's Oscars roundup, click here.)